Conservative Methodists propose new denomination
The Global Methodist Church could form next year
Nearly 50 years ago, amid the sexual revolution, the United Methodist Church debated homosexuality for the first time during a 1972 General Conference meeting in Atlanta. It was then that the denomination adopted language in the UMC Book of Discipline stating, “We do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider it incompatible with Christian teaching.”
“That sentence became a lightning rod for the church,” said the Rev. Keith Boyette, a Methodist elder from Virginia. Each year when the General Conference convenes, the divide over LGBT inclusion has grown more contentious as progressive leaders seek to change church doctrine and affirm same-sex marriage and openly homosexual clergy.
Now, a 17-member group of conservative leaders within the 13 million–member global church is hoping for an “amicable separation.” With Boyette serving as chairman, the group announced plans on Monday to form a new denomination, the Global Methodist Church. The initiative includes a new logo, website, and mission statement, as well as a 97-page transitional statement of doctrine and discipline that affirms “the traditional understanding of Christian marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman.”
The UMC must formally adopt the breakaway protocol. It has postponed its General Conference for two consecutive years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The meeting is now scheduled for late August 2022. Boyette and his team requested the church address the schism during an online conference on May 8, potentially hastening the split. But he said they will wait until the General Conference next year to bring the new church into existence, provided liberal partners remain committed to a protocol that emerged from the 2019 General Conference.
Global delegates in 2019 voted 438-384 to strengthen the denomination’s official teachings on Biblical human sexuality and gender. The vote rattled liberal clergy, prompting them to negotiate a denominational split with conservative groups early last year, called the “Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation.” The protocol allows the formation of a new denomination and gives conservative churches and regional bodies $25 million in UMC funds while allowing them to maintain their property and assets.
Boyette said the breakaway is necessary amid “an increasing system of chaos within [the] church” since liberal clergy no longer abide by Methodist doctrine and are performing same-sex weddings, coming out as gay and lesbian from the pulpit, or entering into same-sex unions themselves.
United Methodism has steadily grown overseas, particularly in Africa, where support for Christian teaching is strong. African delegates played an important role in the 2019 vote and in upholding the UMC’s commitment to Biblical doctrine on marriage and sexuality. Meanwhile, membership in U.S. churches in the denomination have declined by 6 million members since the 1960s. Still, liberal clergy exercise considerable influence over the U.S. church and its bureaucracy.
“That brought us to this moment of crisis, where it is obvious a stalemate will continue,” Boyette said. “It’s clear that our differences are irreconcilable and there is no way to bridge them.”
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